You're a dedicated in-house agency with a large and growing project load, but it seems increasingly hard to get the work done within your current creative processes. What's the problem?

Cella frequently observes organizations with solid creative teams struggling with their workload, often as a result of creative process issues. Like our own health, there are some common symptoms that may indicate your creative process is overdue for a health checkup.

A creative process health check is an opportunity to identify where the most frequent and critical operational breakdowns are occurring. Depending on the level or severity of the breakdowns, the checkup will tell you whether they are easily fixable health issues or ailments that need a bigger intervention.

Here are some operational illnesses to look for:

Too many cooks

Projects where everyone is included, but no one person is responsible, may indicate a lack of project ownership. This can hinder efficiently driving the project hand-offs, accountabilities and communications essential to project progress. Roles and responsibilities clarity is important to any process for effectiveness.

Inadequate creative time

When working on creative strategy, it is detrimental to agency performance and growth, not to mention creative quality, to not include the time it truly takes to work up creative solutions in a project scope. There may be a number of causes as to why this may occur ranging from poor resource planning to underestimating the necessary level of effort to lack of client understanding of creative processes.

Fire drills

Late breaking projects are a reality in creative agencies, but it is also important that this is managed within limits based on the organization and industry. If there is a growing volume of fire drills, it may be a symptom of the bigger issue of project planning/intake, project management, and client management.

Shifting objectives

The cause of this painful symptom is typically poor project intake and the need for a clear creative brief (or project brief) to set the objectives against which creative is produced. Your creative process should have robust briefs as part of the intake and kick-off of projects and they should be used to provide the guiding principles that will ensure the project stays on-strategy. If objectives are changing mid-project, it is likely a symptom of flawed intake procedures. The subsequent churn and rework can greatly impact the efficiency of the creative process.

Never ending rounds of revisions

Similar to shifting objectives challenges, never-ending rounds of creative is hard to absorb within a single project and especially with a pipeline of projects. There can be a downstream impact that creates a cascading increase in workload that is not planned for. The causes can be many, but setting a clear expectation with your clients on the average number of rounds should be part of the creative process, the project scope, and your client SLAs. Where creative authority and client decision-making resides, and how it is implemented, is also another important consideration to effectively managing this dimension of the creative process.

Getting lost in the weeds

As creative professionals, we are trained to focus on details. It's important for creative managers to focus on details to keep projects on-strategy, but managers should take care to not get so much in the weeds that they overly increase effort in the creative process. There is a fine balance to adding value without reaching a point of diminishing returns.

Design by committee

Too often we see good organizations operate on a consensus approach which at times leads to creative reviews and approvals by committee. This can greatly increase the load on a creative process when not managed correctly. There is a difference between needing to provide review feedback and approvals and just keeping key stakeholders informed. There are solid strategies that can be employed to better manage this part of your creative process. There are also technology tools that can help to support the routing and approvals component of the process.

Deadline-driven prioritization

Cella frequently works with in-house agencies that have a large project volume that is prioritized only by project deadlines. This is not to suggest deadlines aren't important, but true prioritization strategies based on process and business rules can smooth out resource allocation so that people are working on the most business-critical projects. This can reduce the fire drills mentioned above with a more thoughtful approach to project management.

SLAs gaps

While many in-house agencies have established SLA guidelines, they may not be followed as well as they should be by client stakeholders or agency teams. It is important that SLAs support and align with the creative process, otherwise projects will be out of balance. Also, SLAs need to be agreed to up front by stakeholders and then managed effectively by the IHA account or project managers. This practice will deliver the added benefit of more clarity around the creative process, expectations and establish better client partnerships.

There may be other symptoms you are experiencing with your creative processes and a thorough health check will help to identify those problem areas you will need to diagnose and treat. While some process issues are simple to resolve, often there are many interrelated process challenges that make for a more complex situation. This often results in the need to conduct a more in-depth process improvement exercise such as a comprehensive review and audit of the processes believed to be dysfunctional. Engaging in this practice can lead to significant improvements in both process and resource management that will benefit the in-house agency operations.

In part 2 of this post, I'll speak to solutions to consider when treating your operational illnesses.